Literature

Short Fiction Contest-winning story #13: “Mystery in C Minor,” by Bruce Golden

New Short Fiction Award

We value creative writing and wish to encourage writers of short fiction to pursue their dream of being published. Jerry Jazz Musician would like to provide another step in the career of an aspiring writer. Three times a year, we award a writer who submits, in our opinion, the best original, previously unpublished work.

Bruce Golden of San Diego, California is the thirteenth recipient of the Jerry Jazz Musician New Short Fiction Award, announced and published for the first time on November 10, 2006.

 

Bruce Golden

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     Satirist, journalist, novelist . . . Bruce Golden has published numerous pieces of fiction. His short stories have appeared in several anthologies, and such publications as Farthing, Nemonymous, Odyssey, and Palace of Reason. Asimov’s Science Fiction called his novel Mortals All a “fine blend of social satire and irreverent anti-establishmentarianism.”

His new novel, Better Than Chocolate (Zumaya Publishing), revolves around a mid-21st Century police inspector who, while hunting his partner’s killer and investigating a pair of seemingly unrelated murders, stumbles onto a conspiracy that threatens all humanity. The inspector, along with his new crime-fighting partner -– a Marilyn Monroe celebudroid, leads a cast of quirky characters towards a climax of comically sexy proportions.

At the turn of the century Bruce walked away from his long career in journalism to devote himself to his first love — fiction. He lives as a starving artist in San Diego with his four cats, reams of story notes, and an auburn-haired princess.

Contact Bruce Golden
 

 
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Mystery in C Minor

by

Bruce Golden

*

Moonlight Serenade, by Glenn Miller

_______________________________

 

January 30, 1946 — Allied Headquarters, Paris, France
 
 
     “What is it, Captain? I’m very busy.”

     “Sorry to disturb you, Colonel, but you said you wanted a report as soon as I completed my investigation.”

     Colonel Washburn searched his desk muttering, “Yes, yes. I’ll read your report as soon as you’ve filed it.”

     Captain Mercer didn’t move. He was hesitant to annoy his superior officer when the man was so obviously distracted by other concerns, but he was convinced it was necessary.

     “Pardon me, sir, but I know the directive for this investigation came from the top, and I believe you should hear my findings before any official documents are filed.”

     The colonel looked up at his subordinate for the first time. “What do you mean? What did your investigation reveal?”

     “Well, sir . . . .” Captain Mercer hesitated. He’d rehearsed this, but now wasn’t certain where to begin.

     “Come on, son, I don’t have all day. Major Miller’s plane went down somewhere over the Channel — correct?”

     “Well yes . . . and no.” Mercer cringed at how it sounded.

     “What do you mean yes and no? It can’t be both, Captain. What exactly did your investigation conclude?”

     “My investigation reached no single definitive conclusion, sir.”

     Colonel Washburn sat back in his chair as if making himself comfortable. “You’d better explain yourself, Captain.”

     Mercer took a breath. “Colonel, I was unable to conclude, with any certainty, what happened to Major Anton Glenn Miller, because of a number of conflicting reports.”

     Colonel Washburn just stared, waiting for him to go on.

     “It’s been assumed Major Miller took off from Twinwood Airfield on December 15th. However, no flight plan was ever filed, and there is no written record of any such departure.

     “Disregarding that for the moment, the most disturbing report I’ve come across originates from an RAF navigator who says, while returning from a mission, his bomber jettisoned its unused bombs over the Channel, and that he saw one of the bombs hit a small plane. He’s certain the plane was a single engine Norseman, the same kind of plane Major Miller was supposedly aboard. The navigator insists the date was December 15th, however, the only official document I can find states that a Norseman was lost to a bomb drop on the 16th.

     “It could have been entirely different aircraft, or there could be a mistake concerning the dates.”

     Colonel Washburn stood and looked through the window behind his desk. “Troubling news, Captain. If we have to report that America’s most beloved bandleader was killed by our allies . . . .” The colonel turned back to Mercer. “You said there were conflicting reports.”

     “Yes, sir. There are several. Despite the fact there is no record of a Norseman landing in Paris on December 15th, there are eyewitness reports that Major Miller was seen at a party thrown by General Eisenhower at the Palace of Versailles on December 16th.”

     Colonel Washburn said nothing, but seemed to contemplate this as he fiddled with a pencil.

     “I’ve also learned that the officer who authorized Miller’s flight, and was reportedly aboard the plane, was a Lieutenant Colonel Norman Baessell, a rather shady character with a reputation for black market dealings. He was known as a reckless operator who ordered his pilots to fly in bad conditions.” Mercer cleared his throat. “There are other accounts. One states Miller was accidently shot by a U.S. Army M.P. in a Paris brothel. Another says he was shot by a Frenchman, who, after being freed from a German prison camp, came home to find Miller in bed with his wife. Still another account — a rumor really — suggests he was a Nazi spy who met in secret with Gestapo chief Heinrich Himmler.”

     “Is that it, Captain? Don’t you have any positive scenarios?”

     “There is one more, sir, but it’s just hearsay. An infantry officer told his men he found Miller’s body outside of Bastogne after the Battle of the Bulge. However, the officer was killed soon after, and no such body was ever identified.”

     “No tag was recovered?”

     “Apparently Major Miller suffered from a skin condition that prevented him from wearing dog tags.”

     Washburn grumbled something Mercer couldn’t make out, then turned to stare at him. “That’s it? That’s the sum of your findings, Captain?”

     “Without going into more detail — yes, sir. To be honest, Colonel, I doubt we’ll ever know exactly what happened to Major Miller.”

~                                 ~                                 ~

December 13, 1944 — London, England
 
 
     He was glad to get the letter from Bing, but jealous that the crooner was back in the good old U.S. of A. He wished he was home. He was proud of what he was doing, even if it was just boosting morale, yet he missed Helen and the kids.

     His door opened and his aide, Lieutenant Haynes, stuck his head in.

     “Colonel Niven is on his way up, sir. He said he needs to speak with you right away.”

     “Thanks, Don. Did you get that new arrangement out to the band? I want to be able to surprise Helen on the special holiday broadcast.”

     “They’re already going over it, sir.”

     “How many times have I told you to knock off that “sir” crap? I don’t remember you ever calling me “sir” stateside.”

     “Sorry, Glenn, there are so many sirs around this place it’s like a bad habit.”

     “I know what you mean,” said Miller, taking off his glasses and wiping the lenses. “I hate all this G.I. stuff.”

     “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you and the Army weren’t getting along. You’re looking mighty thin these days, Glenn. You’ve been working too hard. You need to take a break now and then. Let me get you something to eat.”

     “Just because you used to be my personal manager doesn’t mean I need you managing me,” barked Miller with a smile. “I’ll get something later.”

     “He’s here.” Haynes opened the door and Colonel Niven walked through, looking every bit as dashing in his uniform as he did in Dawn Patrol and Spitfire. Though he was a bit of a stuffed shirt, Miller considered him a friend.

     The colonel closed the door behind him. “I’ve new orders for you, old boy. They come straight from Ike.”

     “Eisenhower?”

     “Yes. You’re acquainted I believe.”

     “Not really. We met once — briefly. Where are the orders?” Miller asked, hand outstretched.

     “Sorry,” replied Niven. “Nothing on paper this time. This is strictly secret stuff, Glenn. Unofficial as it were. I don’t even know what it’s all about. I only know you’re to catch the next available flight for Paris. Your cover story, should you be asked, is that you’re going over early to complete preparations for your Christmas concert. A Lieutenant Colonel Norman Baessell at Milton Earnest Hall will arrange your transportation.”

     “I don’t get it, David. What could the Supreme Allied Commander possibly want with me that’s so secret?”

     “I haven’t the foggiest, old man.”

~                                 ~                                 ~

December 15, 1944 — Twinwood Airfield, Befordshire, England
 
 
     “Doesn’t look like a very good day to fly,” said Haynes as he pulled the jeep to a stop.

     He was right. It was cold, wet, and foggy, and Miller wasn’t fond of flying on the best of days.

     “You want me to hang around in case they cancel?”

     “No, Don. Go ahead and get back. I want you to make sure the band is rehearsing. Colonel Baessell assured me we’d be taking off today. ‘Weather be damned’ I believe were his exact words.”

     “All right then, Glenn. Have a good flight. I’ll see you in Paris in about a week.”

     “See you then.”

     Despite his nonchalance, Miller was worried about the weather. He’d heard someone say all flights were grounded today. His apprehension rose an octave when he saw the plane Colonel Baessell was coming out of.

     “It’s only got one engine,” said Miller.

     “What the hell,” responded Baessell.  “Lindbergh had only one motor, and he flew clear across the Atlantic. We’re only flying to Paris.”

     “You flying this thing?”

     “Nope. I’m just along for the ride. The pilot will be here in a minute.”

     Baessell picked up one of two cases sitting next to the plane and put it aboard.

     “What’s that?”

     “Empty champagne bottles.”

     “Empty bottles?”

     Baessell grabbed the other case. “Bottles are scarce in Paris these days. You can’t buy champagne unless you trade in some empties.”

     “So is that your only cargo this flight?” asked a fellow in a flight jacket who came up behind Miller.

     “I’ve a got few other baubles,” said Baessell. “Here’s your pilot, Miller. John Morgan, meet Glenn Miller.”

     Miller shook hands with the newcomer, then put his duffle and trombone case aboard. Morgan slipped right into the pilot’s seat and began checking his controls, while Baessell buttoned-up the plane.

     “You sure you want to go up in this soup?” Morgan asked, continuing his pre-flight check.

     “Supposed to be clear over the channel,” replied Baessell, sliding into the co-pilot’s seat. “Besides, only a pansy would let a little rain and fog stop him.”

     “Baessell, you’re as subtle as a loaded .45.”

     Miller took the bucket seat behind Baessell and fastened his belt. “It is awfully nasty weather,” offered Miller, “maybe we should — “

     “Don’t sweat it, Major,” declared Baessell. “Morgan here’s a helluva pilot. Flew 32 missions in B-24s without a scratch. He’s used to weather like this.”

     Morgan made a noise that was part disgust, part laugh. “This isn’t exactly a Liberator.”

     Miller looked around. “Where the hell are the parachutes?”

     “What’s the matter, Miller,” jibed Baessell, “do you want to live forever?”

~                                 ~                                 ~

December 15, 1944 — Over the English Channel
 
 
     He didn’t so much wake as become fully conscious of his new surroundings. His terrifying last memories were of panicked shouts and a profound sensation of falling. The plane was going down — that much was clear. Morgan had lost control. Yet he had no memory of the crash — and here he was. But where was here?

     He was lying on the floor of a small compartment, devoid of furnishings and dimly lit by a source he couldn’t determine. His trombone case was next to him, but not his duffle bag. He touched his face to see if he was awake — make sure he was real. It seemed so, yet his inner voice was singing off-key, saying it couldn’t be. Had he been taken prisoner?

     As he stood, an opening appeared in the wall and a man stepped through. He was a small fellow, almost a good foot shorter than Miller’s six-foot frame, and his clothes were rather odd. He wasn’t wearing any kind of military uniform, Miller was certain of that, but he’d never seen an outfit quite like it.

     “Mr. Miller,” said the fellow, “I realize you must be experiencing a certain sense of disorientation. But if you will follow me, I will attempt to explain.”

     He had to stoop, but he followed him through the hatch into a larger compartment. He felt a bit dizzy and readily accepted the stranger’s invitation to sit on a cushioned bench. In the background he caught a glimpse of lights and gauges that made him think of a plane’s cockpit, yet were unlike anything he’d seen.

     “My name is Quay,” began the little man, who remained standing. “I know what I am about to tell you will seem strange — maybe even incomprehensible — but I am a traveler in time. I have come here from what would be to you the distant future.”

     The stranger paused as if to let him absorb what he’d heard.

     The future? A traveler in time? Time travel?

     “Do you mean . . .” Miller began, then hesitated, “. . . you mean like H.G. Wells? You have a time machine?”

     “Yes,” he said, raising his hands to signify the hull around them, “this vessel is a time machine — and more. Much more than Mr. Wells ever imagined.”

     “Are you . . . from Earth, or . . . ?”

     “Yes, in a manner of speaking, I am from Earth. I am a descendent of terrestrials, of Earth men,” said Quay, “but my people, the progeny of this world, no longer live on Terra-Earth as you call it.”

     It was all a bit much for Miller. Looking at the fellow, he looked human enough, though Miller couldn’t quite pinpoint his nationality. He didn’t really understand, much less believe, but still he asked, “What are you doing here?”

     Quay let out a sigh. “I am, in my world, somewhat of an outcast, Mr. Miller. The reason for this has been my lifelong fascination with ancient forms of music. I have studied and enjoyed everything from classical European symphonies to 21st Century electropop.”

     “Electropop?”

     “You will be pleased to know your own music has survived the ages. I have long been enamored with your indelible tunes. My favorite is ‘Moonlight Serenade.’ Indeed, it is because of my deep affection for your swing music that I am here.”

     “What do you mean?”

     “I am here to save you, Mr. Miller — at least save you for my time.”

     “I don’t understand.”

     “I know this may come as a shock,” said Quay, “but, by most historical accounts, you died on terrestrial date December 15, 1944, when the small airplane carrying you and two other military officers disappeared over the English Channel.”

     Miller reconciled what he was being told with what he already suspected. His plane did go down — was going down. He wasn’t dreaming. Or was he? Was he dead? Was this . . . ?

     “Am I dead?”

     “No, Mr. Miller, though it is very likely you would have been, had I not intervened. Because of that, I have committed a crime — a crime which now brands me an outlaw among my people.”

     “What do you mean it’s very likely I’d be dead?”

     “Historical accounts of your death are incomplete and in conflict. The only certainty is that after December 15th of 1944 you never again performed with your band, and a few days later all reports of your whereabouts ceased.”

     Miller shook his head and dropped his face into his hands.

     “I understand it must be hard to accept this — to comprehend what I am telling you. Believe me though, I would not be here if it were not the only way to preserve your genius.”

     “My genius?” growled Miller, feeling at once both bitter and perplexed.

     “My definition,” said Quay, “of what you have accomplished — what you can still accomplish.”

     “So now what?” asked Miller, still not buying all he was hearing. “I go home with you?”

     “Not yet, I am afraid. History must be played out, as inconsistent and paradoxical as it is. I must interfere as little as possible with historical accounts. You must continue on and meet with General Eisenhower.”

     “I don’t get it. If I crashed in the Channel, how would I have ever met with Eisenhower?”

     “Understandably confusing, but, as I said, the accounts of your disappearance vary. It is possible that your pilot, at the last moment, was able to recover control of the aircraft and that it never crashed. However, I could not take that chance. My trip through time and space is limited. My access to this craft allows me to be here now, at this time only, and to return — that is all. If I had waited to confirm your demise, I would not have had a second chance. It is very possible you would have crashed, and that by rescuing you and taking you to meet with Eisenhower, I am responsible for the discordant historical accounts. Such is the paradox of time travel.

     “So, we must play out the chronicled accounts, be they authentic or apocryphal.”

     Miller was still absorbing what he’d heard when he blurted out, “Can I see Helen? Before we go, can I visit my wife and children?”

     “I am sorry, Mr. Miller. The constraints of history do not allow for that.”

~                                 ~                                 ~

December 16, 1944 — Versailles, France
 
 
     It was quite a little shindig Eisenhower had thrown to celebrate his promotion to General of the Army. Any other time Miller would have waded in with both hands. Right now though, his mind wasn’t on celebrating. Too many other concerns dominated his thoughts. Besides, he’d barely made his way into the Palace of Versailles ballroom when one of the general’s aides nabbed him.

     Now he was on his way to see the newly-christened five-star general with no idea why.

     Once inside the general’s expansive office he stood at attention and saluted.

     “Sit down, Major, sit down,” said Eisenhower, not bothering to return his salute.

     Miller sat, admiring the overstuffed antique chair the general had designated. It wasn’t just the chair. The entire room was decorated like something straight out of the 17th Century — which it probably was, he concluded.

     “Major, I have a special assignment for you — a very important assignment. However, it’s not your usual bailiwick.” The general moved thoughtfully around his massive oak desk. “Here it is in a nutshell, Major. My Ardennes Campaign is not going particularly well. Not that we won’t win out eventually — victory is just a matter of time now — but the cost in lives . . . . I want to end this war sooner rather than later. You understand, Major?”

     “Yes, sir.”

     “To that end, we’ve been in contact with someone in the German high command — Heinrich Himmler. Heard of him? He’s the chief of the Gestapo, and he’s tight with Hitler. He’s gotten word to us that we might be able to broker a peace agreement. He’s likely only looking to save his own skin, but if it will spare lives I’m not going to look a gift Nazi in the mouth, if you know what I mean.”

     Miller nodded.

     “This could be our last chance for peace without fighting all the way to Berlin and paying for every inch. So, here’s the deal. Apparently Himmler is a music buff. In particular, I’m told, he’s a huge fan of yours. So I want you to be my representative. I want you to go speak with him, see what he has in mind, see if we can end this thing now.”

     “Sir? Uh, I mean . . . I wanted to make a contribution to the war effort, but this . . . ?”

     “I know this isn’t something you’ve been trained for. However I believe you’re the best man for the job. If the fact that Himmler’s a fan can help us at all, then I want to use it.”

     “Yes, sir. I’ll . . . I’ll do my best, sir.”

     “One more thing. This mission is strictly unofficial. There’s no paperwork on it, there’ll be no record of it. Only you, myself, my chief aide, and the OSS agent who will take you to meet with Himmler know about it. You’re not to tell anyone — before or after the fact. No one can ever know I made overtures to the head of the Gestapo. I’d be crucified in the press. You understand?”

     “Yes, sir, I understand completely.”

~                                 ~                                 ~

December 18, 1944 — Basel, Switzerland
 
 
     The stranger from the future had not reappeared since leaving him in Paris, and Miller was beginning to think the fellow was an hallucination. Maybe he’d bumped his head during the flight over, and it had affected his mind. Maybe it was just a dream. It had all seemed so real. The odd little fellow Quay had certainly seemed real.

     Now he stood in a hotel parlor in Switzerland, waiting for an audience with a member of the German high command. Was this just another delusion?

     “Herr Miller, it’s an honor to meet you.” A fellow wearing a crisp Nazi uniform and glasses not unlike his own strode towards him, hand outstretched in greeting. “I am a devoted follower of your music. I listen to it whenever I get the chance.”

     The Gestapo chief had an extremely firm handshake.

     “I must tell you,” continued Himmler, “I especially love that one ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo.’ Am I pronouncing that correctly?”

     He wasn’t, but Miller nodded.

     “I admit I need music like some men need women — I am sure you understand what I mean.” Himmler removed his crested military hat. “May I get you a drink?”

     “Sure, yes,” replied Miller.

     “Nietzsche was never more astute than when he said, ‘The universe without music would be madness.’ Don’t you agree, Herr Miller?”

     “Well, my life is music.”

     Miller took the glass handed him.

     “I think you’ll appreciate this. Even though we no longer hold France, we have access to some excellent French wines. This one’s from the Bordeaux region I believe.”

     Himmler sipped his drink and Miller did likewise.

     “Ah, but you haven’t come here to discuss wine or music, have you? You’re here as Eisenhower’s representative, concerning a proposition I recently made.”

     “Yes,” responded Miller, happy to get on with it. He didn’t know much about Himmler, but something about the man made his skin crawl. “General Eisenhower would very much like to see the conflict end as soon as possible — saving lives on both sides.”

     “Yes, yes,” Himmler replied in an offhand manner, “however I’m afraid circumstances have changed since I first contacted your general. I no longer have the Fuhrer’s ear. I know Germany is destined to fall — I believe even the Fuhrer knows this, deep in his heart — but he is too far gone. He will never agree to surrender.”

     “There’s nothing you can do?”

     “We can discuss the terms of our capitulation, and the day the Fuhrer no longer breathes, they can be implemented. Until then . . . I’m afraid the war must run its course.”

~                                 ~                                 ~

December 19, 1944 — Over Southern Belgium
 
 
     “So it was all for nothing. You’re from the future — you must have known it was all for nothing.”

     “Yes, I knew,” said Quay. “But history had to be played out — at least the fragments of history as we know them.”

     “Now what?” Miller wanted to know. “Now what do I have to do?”

     “There are no reliable reports, no credible evidence, of you ever being seen again. So now we return to my time. If my breach has been discovered, I will face the appropriate punishment. You, however, will be free to continue making your music.”

     “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but what if I don’t want to go?”

     “I am afraid that is not an option at this point in time, Mr. Miller. Surely you would not have preferred death?”

     Miller thought it over. “No, no I guess I wouldn’t.”

     “I am glad to hear you say so. If not, then my violation would have been for naught.”

     “I would like to see this future world of yours,” said Miller. “And there are so many more arrangements in my head that I never got the chance to put down on paper. You use paper don’t you?”

     “You can if you would like.”

     “But . . . are you certain I can’t visit my family before we — “

     Quay’s craft rocked suddenly, violently.

     “What was that?” asked Miller.

     The man from the future scrambled to his controls. “The time wardens have found me. They are trying to seize control of the ship.”

     “What will they do?”

     Miller saw the first sign of overt emotion in Quay since they’d met. It was fear.

     “We must get away. I must get you back before — “

     The ship jerked, seemed to accelerate free of whatever was holding it, then plunged.

     Miller struggled for a hold as the ship appeared to lose power. He saw Quay working frantically to regain control. The sensation of falling swept over him — the same feeling he’d had just days ago. He started to say something, to ask if they we’re going to crash, but before he could get the words out the ship lurched, then bucked in violent collision.

*                                        *                                         *

     Consciousness was slow to return. His left harm hurt. He was sure it was broken. He struggled to get up.

     The man from the future was lying there, not moving, his body contorted in an awful way. If he wasn’t dead, he was in bad shape.

     There was an enormous rip in the bottom of the ship, which had come to rest on its side. Miller stooped to his knees to get through the tear in the hull.

     It was night outside and snowing. He stood and got his first look at the craft. In the moonlight it appeared more like an oversized carton of cigarettes than a plane. He wondered how it flew with no wings. However it worked, he doubted it would ever fly again.

      An explosion sent him diving for cover. His arm squawked in pain. He looked up. It wasn’t Quay’s ship that had exploded. The burst was several yards in the other direction. Another blast annihilated a treetop. By the time the ringing faded from his ears, an erratic serenade of gunfire had erupted all around him.

     Miller didn’t know where he was, but he realized they’d come down in no man’s land. He heard a moan and saw someone lying in the open several yards away. In the dark he couldn’t tell whether the man was ally or enemy, but realized the fellow was in a dangerous spot. Without thinking, Miller ran to the man, hoping to drag him to safety. All around him strident bursts of light arms fire crackled in uneven syncopation. He reached the wounded soldier and bent down to grab him with his one good arm. Even as he did he heard the cacophony of a machine gun, and felt the bullets rip through him.

*                                        *                                         *

     From where he lay in the snow he could see the wreckage of the time ship, but the pain made it difficult to keep his eyes open. The sounds of battle continued, though fainter than they had been. The pain, too, soon diminished, replaced by numbness. His vision blurred, so he couldn’t be certain, but he thought he saw Quay’s ship begin to shimmer. He heard the pristine thrumming of a clarinet in C minor, and watched as the ship vanished in a golden flare of light.

 

~                                 ~                                 ~

January 30, 1946 — Allied Headquarters, Paris, France
 
 
     “There’s one more thing, sir.”

     “Yes, what is it, Captain?”

     “I have no evidence that it’s related to Major Miller, or even that it’s anything more than battle fatigue. However, members of the 4th Infantry Division out on patrol report seeing an aircraft of a type they couldn’t identify. They described it as box-like with no wings.”

     Colonel Washburn made a noise of disbelief. “No wings? What kind of aircraft doesn’t have wings? What does this have to do with the case anyway?”

     “Nothing, sir. Just that this unidentified flying thing was spotted in the same area outside Bastogne where Major Miller’s body was allegedly discovered.”

     The colonel rose from his chair. “You were right to come to me first, Captain. In two weeks the brass is going to present a posthumous bronze star to Miller’s widow, and last thing we need is to have this matter confused with conflicting, not to mention embarrassing, reports. You will excise all these baseless rumors from your official report and conclude that Major Miller’s plane went down somewhere over the English Channel due to unknown reasons. Is that clear?”

     “Yes, sir. But what if — “

     “No buts, Captain. I want this matter officially closed. Unofficially, I’d say you’re right. We’ll likely never know the truth of it.”

_______________________________

This story is dedicated to the memory of my dad, Robert Bruce Golden, who, like Glenn Miller, served in the Army Air Corps’ 8th Air Force. He was part of a bomber group that flew B-15’s out of England, and his commander was another celebrity — one who would go on to star in the movie, The Glenn Miller Story — Colonel Jimmy Stewart.

 

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